Tag Archives: women in ministry

Women Bishops for Wales, Ireland, South India, South Africa – Female Cardinals in Rome?

As we wait patiently for the Church of England finally to conclude its slow progress to the ordination of women bishops, there has been progress, elsewhere. The Church of Wales has voted by unexpectedly large margins to approve women bishops, the Church of Ireland which had previously approved women bishops in principle, sprang a surprise by announcing the first woman bishop for the British Isles, and almost unnoticed by the press, the Church of South India similarly announced its first woman bishop.  In South Africa, their 2013 synod was attended by their first two female bishops. An ever bigger surprise could just be in store from the Roman Catholic Church. In the wake of Pope Francis’ remarkable interview with the Jesuit publication Civita Cattolica, there was speculation in some Spanish and Italian papers that he could be preparing to include women not as priests, or as bishops, but as cardinals.

Such a move would be extraordinary, but is not entirely implausible. Commentary at El País and at Il Messaggero, available in English translation at Iglesia Descalza, notes that there is an inherent contradiction between Francis’ acceptance of the current Catholic orthodoxy that women cannot be ordained priests, and his equally clear acceptance that the Church is impoverished if we do not make adequate provision for full inclusion of women in the life of the Church.  This could be resolved symbolically, by including women as cardinals. Procedurally, this could be achieved in one of two ways, with relatively minor adjustments to current rules of discipline – not doctrine.

The more likely and more significant approach would be by admitting women as deacons. This would not be in conflict with any principle derived from the Bible, as defenders of the male priesthood claim that women priests would be, and there is abundant Biblical and historical evidence that women deacons were active in the early Christian communities. There are some Catholics who argue that their role was different to that of modern deacons, but even Pope Benedict acknowledged that the possibility of female deacons existed. Others believe that the necessary changes to church regulations could be implemented quite quickly. This would send a powerful initial signal of greater inclusion for women, and practice is likely to be taken up by substantial numbers of women religious and lay women. The really intriguing thing, is that it also opens up a path to women as cardinals. This is because although the usual career path to cardinals’ red hats is as priest, to bishop, archbishop and then cardinal, this is not the only one available. It is claimed technically, the minimum requirement for eligibility is no more than ordination as a deacon.

The other possible route to women cardinals, would be to revert to earlier practice, in which even the diaconate was not an essential precondition – there have in the past been laymen appointed as cardinals. If lay men, why not lay women? This too, could be achieved with a relatively simple change to the rules, but by affecting only those individuals so named, and not the much greater number admitted as deacons, would be more purely symbolic in value, and so both less useful, and less likely.

Some of the commentary along these lines has suggested, based on personal acquaintance with Pope Francis,that he is already thinking along these lines. Since this possibility was first mooted in the press, there has been feverish speculation that he could even name the first female cardinal in his first consistory, in February 2014. Such a move, certainly in the short term, would surprise me, and his in fact been flatly dismissed by the papal spokesman, Fr Lombardi. He did however agree that technically and legally, the possibility exists, and did not rule it out for future.This dramatic change will not come as early as next year, but there are good reasons for thinking that tor women, as for gays and lesbians, and for those who are divorced and remarried, under Francis, this is no longer the hostile church that it was under Benedict XVI and John Paul II. For inclusion of all, the tectonic plates of the church have shifted.

We see this most directly in the simple fact that this is being discussed at all. Under the previous two popes, there was a simple claim that women’s ordination was not possible, could not even be discussed, and that was an end of it. Benedict even dismissed Bishop Morrison of Australia, simply for suggesting that we should consider women’s ordination. .Francis has instead acknowledged that there are dangers in this kind of authoritarianism and certainty, that there must be dialogue with the whole church, reverting to the language of Vatican II of the church as “the people of God” and declaring unambiguously that we need to develop a new theology of women that ensure them a rightful place in the church, that we can hear their voices.

Others would respond that there is no need for a “new” theology of women, that outside the ivory towers of the Vatican, a substantial, credible theology of women already exists. What is needed, is simply that the present all-male establishment take proper note. The genie is out of the bottle, and will not return. We know that a substantial proportion of Catholics support married clergy, and want at least to discuss seriously how to create greater inclusion for women, as priests or otherwise. The voices that under Benedict and John Paul were cowed into silence, will hold their tongues no longer. Encouraged by Francis’ call for dialogue, we should now expect to hear a great deal more thoughtful commentary, and proposals, on a stronger place for Catholic women.  Up to now, the Catholic Church has lagged far behind other denominations in this respect, but at last it is at least beginning to catch up.

It may be wishful thinking to hope for women cardinals (or even deacons) any time soon, but it is no longer entirely fanciful to look ahead to some future date when a pope, opening a general council of the church (in Sao Paolo? or Manila?) may be accompanied by her wife.

Terry Weldon

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Wall or white knuckle ride?

Jean Mayland

I wrote an article for WATCH recently reflecting on the fall of the Berlin Wall. For me it can never be separated from the ordination of women.. The day I came out of Church House Westminster rejoicing that we had received provisional approval for the Ordination of Priests Measure was the very day the wall was breached and the evening papers carried pictures of people dancing on top of it.

In 1981 I had been to a World Council of Churches (WCC) Central Committee in Dresden. Going through ‘Checkpoint Charlie’ was quite an ordeal- even with a special WCC letter. As the end of that Central Committee meeting some of us sang ‘We shall overcome’ at 3 am in the car park of our student hostel as we held hands in a circle with students before boarding the ‘bus to go to the wall once more on the way back to the airport. ’See you in England ‘, we said. ’When we are old aged pensioners’ they replied.That November day I knew that the students would be able to visit the West long before they were pensioners. I also felt that soon women in England would be able to be priests.  Well we did become priests and East Germans poured into the West – although many of them like Angela Merkel went back again.

We women also continued our struggles. Sadly in our own church, the time since 1989 has been used to build another wall between those who accept women priests and those who will not. In 1992, after a nail biting debate, General Synod did give final approval to the Measure making it legal to ordain women and in 1994 many of us were ordained and it was wonderful. Yet all was overshadowed by the Act of Synod which set up the system of Flying Bishops which has entrenched divisions in our Church.

As we seek now to have women bishops the struggle has broken out again with renewed bitterness and the image of a roller coaster may be more accurate than a wall. First of all in July 2008 General Synod debated how to move forward in the process of allowing women to be made bishops, a step which they had already approved. A proposal was brought to General Synod that this should be done by a Code of Practice. WATCH wanted a simple one Clause Measure relying on women bishops graciously to invite male bishops to serve in parishes which would not receive a woman’s oversight or sacramental ministry. That would not do for the opposition, and the amendment was duly defeated. Amendments to compel women bishops by law to transfer powers by law were also defeated . The compromise of making provision by Code of Practice was upheld and passed with large majorities and a provision that it must be a statutory Code of Practice  We all sighed with relief at this strong compromise – but then the draft Code was published. Once, more it seemed designed to entrench divisions in the Church of England

The most unacceptable part of the proposed Measure was Clause 3 which stated that ‘The archbishop of each province shall from time to time, nominate one or more suffragan sees in his or her province from which the holders (being men) may be selected by diocesan bishops of that province to exercise, in relation to parishes in their dioceses whose parochial church councils, have on grounds of theological conviction, requested arrangements to be made and in relation to the persons mentioned in section 4(3), Episcopal functions specified in section 4 or in a code of Practice issued under section 4’

These Bishops would have to be consecrated by other male bishops who have never laid hands on women. Ordinary male bishops could attend the service but not lay on hands. All this is bound up with issues of taint and aimed at preserving a special line of bishops with a woman free pedigree; as someone said in General Synod – a kind of ecclesiastical Crufts. Our hearts sank but once more we took a deep breath and many of us have sent in
amendments to the Revision Committee

Worse was to follow – the roller coaster lurched even lower. On 8 October the Revision Committee issues a press Release which stated that the Revision Committee has voted to amend the draft legislation so as ‘to provide for certain functions to be vested in male bishops by statute rather than by delegation from the diocesan bishop under a statutory code of practice’.

This went entirely against the decision of the General Synod and stunned many of us. WATCH described itself as ‘very disappointed’, Inclusive Church was ‘deeply disturbed’ and MCU published a theological article about the nonsense of legislating to have four kinds of bishops.

We nearly sank into despair and many of us began to feel we would never live to see women bishops.

Then suddenly another Press release on 14 November set our heats rejoicing and moved the roller coaster to the heights of the track. The Revision Committee on Women in the Episcopate announced that it had decided that legislation for women bishops would no longer include proposals for the mandatory transfer of authority – the vesting of particular functions by law – in bishops who would provide oversight for those unable to receive  the Episcopal and/or priestly ministry of women.

WATCH expressed delight, MCU still continued to express theological concerns and the Church Times announced that the Revision Committee had changed its mind yet again. A member of that committee explained to the WATCH AGM on 21 November that the Committee had not actually changed its mind. It went through a whole set of proposals as to how to bring about the mandatory transfer and all were defeated. They realised it was impossible and now return to the issue of what kind of provision. Is a Statutory Code of Practice possible or do they come back to the idea of a single clause Measure?

Time is of the essence and the time table is tight. Can the Committee be ready to bring something to the General Synod in February and can it be sent to the Dioceses in July 2010? It is still nerve racking and nail biting time. There are now only 2 meetings of General Synod a year and it the legislation did not receive Provisional Approval in July 2010 it would have to wait for a new General Synod and that would greatly set back the time table.

The white knuckle ride continues – but you can still help by writing to the Revision Committee. You can also ‘gen yourself up’ by reading the occasional papers on the WATCH web site and studying carefully Jonathan Clatworthy’s brilliant theological paper on the MCU web site and above all KEEP ON PRAYING – especially for all those on the Revision Committee.

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